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Posts Tagged ‘the fields of Athenry’

Pulling on the Green Jersey – the best fans in the world?

It was an incredible sight to see. It was a sea of green, jumping up and down rhythmically on all sides of the ground, backs to the play, singing and supporting their team. It was close to 30,000 Ireland fans doing the “Poznan” at the European Championship against Italy supporting their boys in green.

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There was a small pocket of Italian fans in the corner supporting the Azzuri. They probably had just 10% of the numbers supporting Ireland. At the end of the game the Italian players (as did the Irish players) showed their appreciation of the atmosphere generated by the Irish supporters during their lap of honour. It was clear from Italian captain Gianluigi Buffon’s expression that the goalkeeper was impressed by it all giving the Irish fans multiple thumbs up.

Spain, current World and European champions, could muster only a fraction of the Irish support in the game in Gdansk that will be remembered of course for the 4-0 result for Spain. It will also be remembered for the fantastic rendition of ‘The Fields of Athenry’ by the Irish support at the conclusion of the game. The best supporters in the world they say. They may say it but I don’t believe it.

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While John Delaney, the FAI, the PFAI and the Green Army were out supporting the national team in Poland, at home another League of Ireland club ceased to exist, their results “expunged” for the season. Monaghan United went to the wall on Monday, not that too many noticed.

What other league in Europe has a club just disappear mid-season? The United Chairman stated the lack of a main sponsor and the dwindling support that forced their hand. Monaghan have been playing in front of average crowds of around 600 but had one game where less than 200 paid in. Over 25,000 Irish fans made it to Poland for the each of the three Ireland games. That 25,000 figure would represent the total gate over a whole 16 home game League of Ireland season.

Compared with every other squad in Poland and Ukraine, the Irish squad at UEFA EURO 2012 was unique in that we had no players from our own domestic league. I’m not advocating that we should have League of Ireland players in the squad for the sake of it but it does say something about the state of Irish football that there were no players from our own league.

People say they won’t go to the League of Ireland as the standard isn’t good enough with the league being “rubbish”. Results in Europe over recent years would dispute this and I’m not just talking about Shamrock Rovers’ qualification for the group stages of the Europa League. Six of the original squad called up by Giovanni Trapattoni played in the League of Ireland; Kevin Doyle, Shane Long, Stephen Ward, David Forde, James McClean and the injured Keith Fahey. As an aside the last time Ireland played in Poland in 2005, the squad did contain one league of Ireland player, Jason Byrne.

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The fact is though that if fans don’t come through the turnstiles in sufficient numbers in Ireland the game cannot progress. The aim should be for players to emerge through the League and not just get farmed off to the UK at 15 in the hope that they will make it. If players are good enough, they will get the chance to play on higher stage like those players in the Ireland squad who progressed from the League. A certain Roy Keane began his playing career in the League of Ireland with a club, Cobh Ramblers, which have since dropped out of the league due to financial issues.

Just last month, I travelled up to Gortakeegan for my first and, as it now turns out, my last visit to Gortakeegan. Getting petrol in one of the M1 service stations I looked around and saw a car full of lads in blue track suits. Inside were a few more and then I spotted their manager, Roddy Collins. It was the Monaghan team travelling up from Dublin where they lived and trained for their home game in Monaghan. I was reliably informed that United had just one local player in their squad. Maybe this was one of the myriad of reasons the Monaghan public shunned going to see their recently promoted team in the Premier Division of the Airtricity League.

Clubs will prosper if fans come in sufficient numbers to see them. If they can produce their own talent and give a sense that this team represents the area, fans will invest their time and hence their money in the team. Clubs like Cork City, Sligo Rovers, Derry City, Dundalk and even Limerick FC have great potential outside of Dublin with their catchment areas and sporting culture.

The population of Dublin can certainly support a number of vibrant teams from the capital. Shamrock Rovers are the current success story in the League but that is being helped by developing roots in the local area of Tallaght. Having a manager and three of the playing squad from Tallaght is not a hindrance either.

The League needs to continue to promote itself to try and attract new fans. No, we can’t necessarily compete with British football but we can attract some of that floating support to, in addition to watching their UK team from a barstool, get out and see some live football at their local club. We need to get the wider Irish sporting public to be patriotic, to pull on the Green jersey (or red, white, blue etc.) and support their local League of Ireland football club.

We had nightmares & songs to sing

June 15, 2012 1 comment

It was all a bit humbling really. Spain came and reigned supreme as the limitations of Giovanni Trapattoni’s system and our playing squad against Spain’s fluid flowing football was visible for all to see. Ireland were torn apart 4-0 by the World and European Champions and dumped out of the Euro 2012 tournament after just two games.

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Our only consolation was the magnificent support given to the team from the stands. This wasn’t a ‘sing when your winning’ support like Spain seemed to have but the singing of ‘The Fields of Athenry’ by the Irish fans at the games conclusion was simply incredible. Despite being 4-0 down and heading out of the tournament, it just got louder and louder. For me it will live long in the memory and it was an amazing experience to be part of.

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However, whilstwe sung about “dreams and sings to sing”, the players probably felt like it was a nightmare they were in as Spain took apart Ireland scoring three second half goals to go with their early first half strike. It was a very impressive performance by La Roja who were never really put under pressure by the boys in green. Torres (2), Silva and Fabergas did the damage for the defending champions.

The Simon Cox experiment didn’t really work and Plan B after half time involving Jonathan Walters wasn’t much better. Having said that whatever team or formation Ireland put out on a wet night on Gdansk, playing against opposition of this calibre was always going to a very difficult task.

The road down to the main square in Gdansk and around the Neptune fountain was full of Irish fans from lunchtime on match day. The trains, planes and camper vans had deposited the Green Army in the very north of Poland. Some Spanish fans wandered through the Square and supporters and locals alike were treated to a few Poznans as well as the full repertoire of Ireland songs from Trap’s Army. Whether a team of Gary Breens or one containing any of the 12 days of Christmas/Paul McGrath would have helped Ireland in the game is doubtful.

There was talk ahead of the game of whether the pitch would be watered and the weather gods conspired to make it wet. In the stands, the Green Army outnumbered the Spanish probably three to one. In excess of 25,000 were dressed in green and they were silenced once again like against Croatia by an early goal with Spain scoring in the opening four minutes.

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Spain passed and passed and passed while Ireland huffed and puffed but got nowhere near to blowing Spain’s defence down. It was a real master class in passing by Spain. They could afford to bring Cesc Fabergas off the bench where as we had Paul Green and that probably summed up the gulf in class between the teams. One of the biggest cheers of the night was for the introduction of young James McClean but even the young Derry man couldn’t influence the outcome of the game at that stage.

I’ve heard comment before about it would be better if we didn’t qualify for these things because once we are at a big tournament we would get hammered. I certainly didn’t think we would get hammered but after just two games conceeding seven goals and only scoring one, that has all the hall marks of a hammering. I’d much prefer for Ireland to be here though than being at home but these results have been hard to take after the long build up and sense of occasion about the Euros.

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It is better to be at the big boys table at these feasts of football than watching on the telly. The pity is that in Poland we were being served up as Spain’s starters to be consumed by their crisp passing football. What lessons can we learn from this I don’t know as we face into our final game of the tournament on Monday and the rocky road to Rio to come after. Ireland will be remembered by the fans off the pitch rather than the performances on it when this competition ends.

The final few minutes of the game were played out under the soundtrack, not of the celebrating Spanish fans, but to the Irish in the stands. It was a powerful rendition of “The Fields of Athenry”. The haunting mournful ballad echoed around the amber walls of the Gdansk arena. Ireland will be haunted by this result for a long time to come.

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